A Series Plea

Elizabeth Bluemle - April 26, 2013

My Dearest Publishers, Editors, Jacket Designers, and Marketing Folks*:
We need to talk again about how you can make booksellers and librarians and — most importantly, your kid customers — extremely happy. Every week, we booksellers spend a lot of time with your series books: shelving them, tracking them down for customers, restocking them, and looking up the on-sale date of the next eagerly anticipated volume. All this serial contact means encountering certain frustrations again and again, and there are a few very simple things you folks can do to bring joy and delight to the land:

  • Standardize your title/series treatment with Bowker, Ingram, Baker & Taylor, etc., so that when we fetch new titles into our systems, they don’t need editing. You would not believe how many variations of book and series title treatments we see. Titles might show up with or without the series name; if the series name is part of the title, sometimes it precedes, sometimes it follows, the individual book title. Sometimes the series title is abbreviated. Sometimes the numeral (e.g., Book 5) appears; sometimes it doesn’t. I’m not entirely certain that this is completely under publisher control; it’s possible those companies specify different preferences or make their own edits. But I suspect it’s more a case of lacking a single style sheet through the years. if that’s the case, then please, for the love of all things holy in publishing, standardize your in-house format for series. I cannot tell you how many hours I have spent editing our own series titles so our staff can find books quickly and easily. When a child says, “I need book 16 in the Magic Tree House series,” or “What’s book 9 in the 39 Clues?” or “What’s the next book after Scorpio Rising in Alex Rider?” etc., we want to answer them right away from our impeccable, easily searchable inventory records.
  • List your series numbers on the spines! There is nothing easier you can do to help customers, booksellers, teachers, and librarians — and yet there are STILL holdouts. I cannot think of any positive reason to omit this very simple and helpful piece of information from a book’s spine. And please make it easy to read, as high contrast as good taste allows.
  • Please list the entire series, in order, in a list in the front matter of the book. Parents spend a lot of time hunkered down in the fantasy section, flipping frantically through books trying to find the magical list of what’s in the series. (Obviously, those lists in the early volumes will be incomplete as each new volume comes down the pike, but they could conceivably be updated with subsequent printings.) Oh, and that antiquated convention of omitting the title of the book you’re holding in your hand from that front-matter list of the books in the series does not serve your readers. Include all the titles, and please do so in a way that makes it crystal clear what is the order of the series.

I think if the publishing folks who work on series titles spent a week (heck, even one afternoon!) working at a bookstore, you’d quickly understand the day in, day out, non-stop demand we have from customers, both kids and adults, needing series help.
Thanks for listening! Enjoy the gorgeous weather.
*Marketing folks — We know you’re not responsible for any lapses in series design efficacy, but you are included here in the hopes that you will use your prodigious influence to encourage change where needed!

15 thoughts on “A Series Plea

  1. Alison

    Another good source for books in series is fantastic fiction (I use fantasticfiction.co.uk). It would be great to have the books labeled consistently though!

  2. Julie

    You mention 39 Clues… it drives me crazy that there are now 3 different 39 Clues books with a big #1 on the spine!

  3. Ellie Miller

    Heartily second Allison’s recommendation of Fantastic Fiction’s website (I use the UK e-dress too). IMHO it’s probably one of the most informative and well-documented/researched book-related sites I’ve ever found. In addition to series order and brief plot synopses, they even offer information re: forthcoming releases and suggestions of the “if-you-like-this, you-might-enjoy-these” variety. Moreover…even older and/or more obscure authrors can be found there…what an an incredibly broad and varied database.

  4. Tom

    And another endorsement for Fantastic Fiction. I seriously use the website on a daily business and would be lost without it. They’re inclusive and their information is very reliable.

  5. Carol Moyer

    Yes Yes Yes. Publishers, please take these 3 steps seriously. We would like to have a positive attitude when a customer asks for a particular number in a series, instead of the dread that we will have to access multiple sites to find the title. (Yes, fantasticfiction is a godsend.)
    Thanks, Elizabeth, for this important post.

  6. Drew Smith

    One of the reasons all three of your hopes don’t happen, though, is that the booksellers want the customer to pick up a random book up off the shelf and buy it – finding that mystical new customer. The marketers (who you tried to ignore) believe that a new customer – probably rightly – customer isn’t going to buy Book 37 if they haven’t read Books 1 through 36.
    In other words, they’re literally hiding from people that a book series should be read in order. Take The Dresden Files, for instance. The books used to say “Book # of The Dresden Files” on the cover. Now they say “A Book of The Dresden Files.” Not quite helpful at all.

  7. Pat Fowler

    I agree series titles in all genres are hard to deal with when trying to help a customer choose the right book – many times I find Book 1 is out of stock & I have just wasted time telling them about a great series. How nice it would be if the spines had the numbers on them so that you can glance at a shelf and see what to restock. Archer Mayor followed that recommendation when he reprinted his series in trade paperback.
    In the mystery section, I have several series where I have looked up the sequence on the author’s or publishers website & printed it out & stuck a paper on the back of the nearby shelf facing the section – I used to keep a binder with that info on it, but it is hard to update.
    I have just added the 2 sites mentioned to our IPad, IPod Touches, and Kobo Arc screens so that we can use it to walk about the store looking at titles, either with a customer (my Touch is in my pocket all the time) or when doing inventory. Thanks for the info!

  8. sue carita

    It drives us crazy in our store that some series have a main series title, then a subtitle, then another subtitle! Often the purchaser is only aware of the last subtitle. Sometimes he doesn’t know the complete series name. Our store database has to name series books with a lot of abbreviations, a new set for each subtitle! They go off the screen before the particular volume’s name comes up.
    Sometimes the words on the spine, where we are looking for the title, don’t quite match the title on the cover. PLease take seriously the comments made in Shelftalker.
    We all thank you for it. Sue

  9. Jan Hall

    I have to dig around on google to print out series lists, keep them in alphabetical order, make them accessible to all, and make sure the info is in our POS system. Just another pain when the solution is so easy from publishers.

  10. Meghan Goel

    I can’t agree enough. I think that, aside from the added effort on our part, it is a frustrating experience for readers. Kids get really excited about picking up the next book in a series they love, and it feels like it shouldn’t be so much work to help them find it. The best thing would be numbers on the spine. The second best thing is a complete list of series books in the front of the book. We all know that kids love reading series, and this would be a huge step in making that experience better for them!

  11. Elizabeth Bluemle

    Some series really should be read in order for the best experience, and some don’t. I often wish we were in the habit of keeping a little database our staff members could refer to when we’re out of some series’ volume 1 title and customers want to know if they can start with a later book. (Honestly, I often read books out of order, but there are kids who absolutely MUST start with book 1 if the chronology makes a difference.)

  12. Shoshana

    Agreed on all counts! I would add that when titles are listed, it’s best if they don’t start with the name of the series (Fictitious example: The Wild Adventures of Mackenzie McIntire 27: The Pirate’s Potion). If it’s a long title, the first few words might be all that appear in Wordstock or when we print restock reports, section corrections, etc, which leaves us checking dozens of ISBNs.

  13. SC

    Hi I couldn’t agree more with the comments above. I am a children’s librarian in the UK and developed my website to help other staff when they are asked for children’s series. It doesn’t make any money but is now used widely in the UK, Asia, Australia and various parts of the USA. I do struggle sometimes to find the name of a series….
    Keep reading
    S. UK


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